Cod-forsaken fish sticks

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Interesting story yesterday from Maine. And I’ll get to how it relates to my culinary experiment (pictured above) earlier this year.

The lobster population has been exploding in the Gulf of Maine, which is a productive, protected and generally successful fishery. A problem: A high lobster population means lower prices. Sure, that’s good news for consumers who like everything to be cheap. But it’s bad news for local fishermen charged with protecting and husbanding the fishery while simultaneously paying bills.

The twist: This fishery dilemma dates to an earlier one, the overfishing of cod in New England. Cod eat everything off the ocean floor. Predation of lobster by cod was, according to scientists, an ecological check-and-balance.

What caused overfishing of cod? Among other phenomena, the fish stick. Yes, I’m suggesting that fish sticks constitute a phenomenon. So powerful was the mass-consumptive call for frozen, reheated, generic, white fish that the irrepressibly abundant cod are all but gone from the great George’s Bank. (Climate change may also have something to do with it.)

From Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, A 1950s advertisement from the Glouchester seafood company Gorton’s claimed that fish sticks were the

“latest, greatest achievement of the seafood industry of today… Thanks to fish sticks, the average American homemaker no longer considers serving fish a drudgery. Instead she regards it as a pleasure, just as her family have come to consider fish one of their favorite foods. Easy to prepare, thrifty to serve and delicious to eat, fish sticks, it can be truthfully said, have greatly increased the demand for fish, while revolutionizing the fishing industry.”

And this is how we get the picture above, my tofu-batter-vinegar-shallow-fry earlier this year. The social construct of the fish stick is powerful, indeed.

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Carbon steel wok vs. tofu

Dry fry

My first attempt at cooking with tofu was a disaster. Mushy, flavorless, goo.

This time, I tried the vegetarian equivalent of the sausage grillers’ “slow and low” mantra: the tofu dry fry.

After slicing up a big brick of extra-firm tofu, I browned the individual pieces over the course of an hour. Not exactly economical in terms of time, but absolutely worth the effort.


The low heat essentially dries out the tofu with minimal burning. The result is a slightly crispy sponge of tofu that soaks up marinade. As soon as they had browned, the pieces of tofu went into a bowl of teriyaki, garlic, black and red pepper.

The whole mix was then stir fried up with onions, mushrooms, corn, kelp noodles and more garlic.

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